For Dr. Milo Nikolic, one of the most surprising thing about adjusting to teaching remotely is that it helps him feel closer to his students.
Dr. Nikolic is an associate professor of classics and German in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. He says there is a sense of togetherness right now that comes from everyone being in the same boat.
“The students are with us in this, and I am in this with the students,” he told the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in the unit’s first Teaching Tuesdays video.
Knowing that everyone is human and adapting to a change nobody expected or wanted means that online classrooms are bringing students and instructors closer in novel ways, Dr. Nikolic says.
Also, online classes remove the hierarchy of the physical classroom — everyone is now sitting in the front row.
“From my point of view as an instructor,” he said, “it’s the big equalizer, the big leveler.”
A student’s point of view
Dr. Nikolic, who has taught at Memorial since 2009, teaches a broad range of courses. That includes first-year introductory courses, topical courses and graduate seminars.
“The part of teaching that I value the most is the direct interaction with the students, being in the same room and looking at their expressions as I lecture to them or have conversations with them,” he said.
“From my point of view as an instructor, it’s the big equalizer, the big leveler.”
He says he can see in their faces if he needs to emphasize some points further, or less.
Being out of the physical teaching environment is unfamiliar territory for a lot of students and educators.
However, Dr. Nikolic had one important advantage: he was enrolled in a course as a student at Memorial at the time of the shutdown in March. He saw as a student what worked and what didn’t.
No student left behind
For fall 2020, Dr. Nikolic will teach two first-year language courses.
The first course is a Latin course that would have run online either way, he says. But the second is a new course, Elementary German for Business and Engineering, that normally would have been in person.
For the German course, Dr. Nikolic is using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous approaches. This provides students with both interaction with the instructor and some flexibility.
Preparing for this remote course is like preparing for one taught in person, he says. He will upload PowerPoint presentations and lecture at the regular time slot.
But he also plans to record those lectures to give students who can’t attend during that slot the option to watch them later. He says this is important because he doesn’t know the domestic situation for each student, perhaps sharing electronics with other family members.
“I have to take all that into account and make it possible for those particular students to follow the lectures asynchronously,” he said.
Dr. Nikolic also says that he makes his course materials as legible as possible at different screen sizes. That is because some students may take his classes via tablets or even smartphones. And for testing, he advocates for an accommodating approach. He assumes that, like the instructors, every student is doing their best in a strange situation.
“It’s a matter of working together here to find the best possible solution that suits every student and leaves nobody behind.”